Running back Rashad Jennings is expected to start vs. the Giants because of Darren McFadden's injured hamstring. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
When the Raiders take on the Giants Sunday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, they’ll not only be playing the guys in the blue uniforms, but history as well.
There’s the recent history of a 49-20 thrashing at the hands of the Eagles last week, but also the fact that the Raiders have 11 straight defeats when traveling to the Eastern time zone.
Traveling cross country and playing a game earlier than usual for West Coast bodies – a 10 a.m. start Sunday – can often throw players off their rhythm. But Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said this week he’s not even thinking about it.
“I don’t like to build in a lot of excuses,” said Allen. “Our job as professional football players, as coaches, (is) to go play wherever they tell us, whenever they tell us and just prepare just like it was any other game. Really the only difference is we’ll travel on Friday as opposed to Saturday so we can get acclimated to the time change.”
Sunday’s game features two teams in last place in their divisions, with odsmakers favoring the Giants (2-6) by five points over the Raiders (3-5). Though Oakland’s record is better, the Giants (who are coming off their bye week) have the momentum, having won two straight. The Raiders, meanwhile, are trying to regain their balance after the lopsided loss to the Eagles.
The Raiders defense had been solid before last weekend, and now faces a veteran quarterback in Eli Manning and some excellent receivers in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, who are both on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. Manning, after throwing 15 interceptions in the first six games, has not turned the ball over in the past two.
Allen said this week that the Raiders are trying to learn from their pass-coverage mistakes last week and rebound vs. the Giants.
“We’ve got to learn from it,” he said. “We’ve got to put it behind us. We’ve got to move on. We recognize we have a tough challenge this week and our job is to get prepared the best we can and go out and play like we feel like we’re capable of playing.”
It’s now likely, too, that rookie nickel cornerback D.J. Hayden – who had his worst game of the season last week – won’t get a chance to redeem himself vs. the Giants. He hurt his groin in practice this week and may give way to Phillip Adams.
On offense, the Raiders say quarterback Terrelle Pryor should play. Though he hurt his knee late in the loss to the Eagles, he’s been practicing this week. Running back Darren McFadden, however, has a hamstring injury and will be replaced by Rashad Jennings, who is coming off a 100-yard rushing day. Allen says the Raiders hope to get back to the running game this week against New York, though the Giants have been stout against the run, ranking ninth in the league. Overall, the Giants defense ranks 14th defensively.
“I thought we moved the ball and I thought we ran the ball well all game (vs. the Eagles),” Allen said this week. “And our run game has gotten better. It’s improving.”
Pryor, of course, has been the Raiders’ best weapon. He averages 7.7 yards per carry and leads all NFL quarterbacks in rushing with 485 yards. The Giants this season gave up 79 yards rushing to Eagles’ running QB Michael Vick and 45 to the Panthers’ Cam Newton, so they have been vulnerable in that area.
But beating the Giants is going to be a tall order. New York has not given up a touchdown in 10 quarters. Getting the best of the Giants defense will be a test.
“This is a tremendous front seven,” said offensive coordinator Greg Olson of the Giants’ defensive line and linebackers. To win on Sunday, he added, the Raiders will have to not just move the football – they had more than 500 yards of total offense in the loss to the Eagles – but make certain yardage equals points.
“We’ve got to find more ways to score or find a way to get into the end zone,” said Olson. “I think we’ve shown at times we can move the football. … We’ve got to understand the importance of scoring opportunities – specifically, scoring touchdowns.”